Three Vietnamese bloggers were sentenced to between four and twelve years in jail following a trial in Ho Chi Minh City on Monday in a case which has garnered international attention.
Heavy security guarded the opening of the trial, which saw Nguyen Van Hai, also known as Dieu Cay, Ta Phong Tan and Phan Thanh Hai sentenced to twelve, ten and four years in prison respectively.
Phan Thank Hai’s sentence was the lightest of the three, possibly due to the fact that he was the only one of the trio to plead guilty.
At the trial which lasted only a few hours, Court President, Nguyen Phi Long said: "Their crimes were especially serious with clear intention against the state. They must be seriously punished."
"They abused the popularity of the Internet to post articles which undermined and blackened (Vietnam's) leaders, criticising the (Communist) party (and) destroying people's trust in the state," Long added.
Long explained that Dieu Cay and Ta Phong Tan were accused of causing disorder in the courtroom and were prevented from making final statements, however, before his speech was cut off, Cay said: “"I just feel frustrated by injustice, corruption, dictatorship which does not represent the state but some individuals.”
"According to Vietnamese laws, citizens have the right to freedom of speech and it is in accordance with international treaties to which Vietnam is party," he said before the sound in the courtroom was cut.
According to another popular banned blog, Dan Lam Bao (the People Report) supporters had been stopped by security forces and prevented from approaching the area outside the courthouse. The blog also claimed that seven supporters had been arrested earlier on Monday morning.
The three bloggers were sentenced for writing anti-state propaganda and contributing material to the banned website “Free Journalists Club."
All of the writers dealt with issues which are deemed particularly sensitive in the communist state, including maritime disputes with China, corruption and other subjects. To Phong Tan, a former policewoman, wrote about corruption and injustice in the Vietnamese justice system.
Her case gained a great deal of interest after her mother committed suicide by self immolation in protest over her daughter’s detention.
Rights groups have expressed growing concerns at the government’s use of charges related to propaganda, which have been used regularly to silence critical voices and prosecute dissidents. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung condemned the writers of a number of blogs for writing about high level corruption.
All media outlets in Vietnam are state-run and private media is banned.
US President Barack Obama had previously highlighted the plight of Dieu Cay and other citien journalists in Vietnam. In may, he said: “We must not forget (journalists) like blogger Dieu Cay, whose 2008 arrest coincided with a mass crackdown on citizen journalism in Vietnam.”
Human Rights Watch was among organisations who called for the immediate release of the bloggers ahead of the trial.
"Vietnam's arbitrary use of vaguely worded national security laws to imprison critics of the government means bloggers are bearing the brunt of this assault on freedom of expression," Asia Director of HRW, Brad Adams said.
Reporters Without Borders has placed Vietnam on its list of “enemies of the internet” and ranks the Asian nation as the 172nd country out of 179 on its World Press Freedom Index.
Source: DCMF, RSF, AFP